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THE SWIRLING SKIRTS OF LA BOCA
The music reverberated across the street as the dancers twirled on the pavements. Skirts rose and fell as moves became more intricate and sensual. Colourfully dressed women and suited males concentrated on parading their skills in time to the alluring beat. Touts attempted to direct the passers-by into the nearby restaurants where they could sit and watch the spectacle. La Boca is alive with the daily sounds of the tango, the world famous dance that originated in this old port section of Buenos Aires, the Argentinean capital. It is well-worth visiting!
On a recent visit to Argentina I found the colourful streets of La Boca fascinating. La Boca translates as the mouth (of the river), a natural place for a port. As the story goes, the sailors painted the old wooden sailing ships in the harbour and any left-over paint went home for use on their nearby dwellings. As the sailors were poor they welcomed any paint which meant that walls and houses often had a variety of colours. The other story that I was told was that the tango developed in the area as a dance between male sailors and only gradually the local prostitutes were added, women who were attracted to the area for the incoming ship traffic. Hence it, the tango has a dubious history and it was only when the Parisiennes took to it that the tango became the dance inextricably linked to Argentina.
I visited La Boca on a bicycle tour which is a very pleasant and un-demanding way to see Buenos Aires, a largely flat city. We stopped, parked our bikes, and wandered among the visitors on Calle Caminito, La Boca’s main thoroughfare. Cafes, street art vendors, dancers and the inevitable T-shirt shop were evident, with the colours of the local (and famous, as the club of Maradona) Boca Juniors Football team most prominent. For anyone interested in the football culture of Argentina it is worth popping in to the nearby stadium, known affectionately as ‘La Bombonera’ (the chocolate box). I was there during the World Cup, at a time when Argentina was still in the competition, and the museum/stadium tour was very popular. The steep-sided stadium is like a cauldron on match day and there is a simulation of this fútbol experience in an octagonal room in which visitors are surrounded, through video images, by the cacophony of sound and action that is the norm.
Nearby San Telmo was certainly worth a visit as we cycled our way back towards Retiro and the Microcentro. The barrios, or districts, of Buenos Aires all have their own distinct ‘feel’. San Telmo’s cobbled streets and art nouveau buildings (some of which are cafes or bars) have a quaintness about them, of good times in the past. Its hundreds of small shops are crammed with antiques and curios. There is a sense of history when we enter the Plaza de Mayo, bordered on one side by the Casa Rosada (the Pink House), famous as the Presidential Residence of Eva Peron’s husband. The Plaza is the site of the regular vigils of the mothers who have sought accountability for the disappearances for up to 30,000 people in the 1976-83 ‘Dirty War’.
Buenos Aires is an easy city to get around, with city buses, an extensive underground and suburban train lines all running efficiently. It is an interesting modern city with much to offer. There are a variety of different restaurants with the parrilla (a grill restaurant), of which there are hundreds, the most common. A carne asada is regarded as one of the best meat dishes in the world, and this can be washed down by some great Argentinean wines (Malbec in particular).
Not only is Buenos Aires a great city to visit, it is also a base from which to visit more of Argentina. Day trips from the city can include a visit to an Estancia (rural estate) or to the nearby delta region of Tigres for a boat trip among the islands. The estancia I visited gave visitors an insight into traditional Argentinean life on the pampas, with gauchos parading their skills, both on a horse and on the dance floor.
Further afield, visitors can visit the magnificent Iguacu Falls, one of the world’s great natural wonders. Here the 3 kilometre-wide Iguacu River plunges, in over 275 cascades, into a series of gorges. It is must-see for any discerning traveller- probably the greatest water fall in the world. Also from Buenos Aires visitors can fly to the Argentinean cities of Bariloche (a little Switzerland transferred to the foothills of the Andes) and to Salta, an interesting Spanish colonial city, with a proximity to Andean Indian villages and the famous Humahuaca Canyon (another Grand Canyon).
Argentina is definitely worth a visit!
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